Archive for the ‘Nativity of Christ’ Category

He Who is became what He is not, so we are not can become like Him

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

I am at the 6th annual Winter retreat at St George Orthodox Church in Pharr Texas.  Of course, most of the people here have celebrated Nativity, but Matushka Elizabeth always takes care of me with no fuss.

As part of the presentation by Fr Evangelos Pepps, he sang in the Byzantine tone "Joseph was amazed", the following Sessional Hymn, and as is always the case when I here such exalted theology, I was moved to personalize it, and thought these feelings were worthy to share. After all, what good is theology if it is not lived, or does not inspire us and help us to change?

He whom nothing can contain, * how is He held within a womb? * And while in His Father's arms *, how in His mother's pure embrace? Such is His will and good pleasure, and as He knoweth. * For  being without flesh, * He took flesh willingly; * for us, He Who Is * became what He was not. * Without forsaking His own nature, * He hath partaken of what we are. * For Christ is born now, twofold in nature, * to fill Heaven with mankind. (Sessional Hymn, Dec 25, matins, sessional hymn after the Polyeleos)

The theology in this one hymn is immense! It references dozens of Scriptures and some of the most important dogmas regarding our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is important to know these dogmas, and along with this, we must feel them deeply as they resonate in our heart.

Perhaps as an edifying exercise I will attempt sometime to reference all the important dogmas and scriptures that are related to this hymn, but I am on a slow modem, with little time because of the retreat. I at least wanted to bring forth two points.

 1. Our hymnology always has a sense of wonder – and this is unsophisticated and shallow as we see so often in this season, but theologically intricate and unspeakably beautiful. If you want to understand the incarnation, we Orthodox do not hide this dogma – it is present in all of our services, especially matins on ANY day, and especially on the Nativity and major feasts! It is all there, if we stand, and incline our heads, and listen! It may take years of listening, but it does sink in. Those who have stood in many vigils know what I mean.

2. "He Who Is * became what He was not". There are deep theological implications to this part of the hymn, but more than any other part, it gives me great hope concerning the purpose of my life and the "lively hope" I have for the fulfillment of this purpose.

I feel these words as a solemn promise to me (and you, and all mankind).

There are many things that I am not. One can even say that if we are not in Christ, we are "not" – there is no meaningful existence outside of Christ (and becoming like Him), since everything else is temporary and shallow. I feel my fallen humanity deeply, but I also feel deeply the promise that our Lord has made because of His incarnation. He took on our humanity, which was marred by sin, and changed it – fundamentally, and made us capable of attaining perfection. He also taught us the path to perfection, because one needs ability and knowledge to accomplish anything, whether secular or sacred.

Therefore, when I heard these words, in a flash, "whether as a thought in my brain, I know not, or whether in my soul, I know not – God knows" – I reformed these words like this:

Because He Who Is became what He was not,

I who am not, and have not, can become like He Who is.

This is the core meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and we can never state it too many times, or in too many different ways. Glory be to God.



Sunday after Nativity 2009. Things are not as they seem!

Sunday, January 11th, 2009


Matthew 2:13-23 13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. 19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. 21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

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…to raise up the image that fell of old!

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

The beautiful troparion of the Forefeast of Nativity sums up succinctly the purpose of the incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. One may say, it contains in full our “theology of redemption”. Jesus Christ became man so that our image, which “fell of old” due to the sin of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent weakening of the human race might be “raised”. He did not come to “purchase” our forgiveness by dying on the cross1 His primary mission was not to obtain forgiveness for us!

If all Christ’s mission accomplished for us was that our sins are forgiven, we are truly to be lamented, because we will never be able to change. We would still be sinners, with our tempestuous passions, even if we be pardoned every day. What good is that?

We were made in the image of God – Who is perfectly holy, perfectly free, perfectly at peace. Our sins obscure this image, and make it less effectual in our lives, just as dirt makes pure water cloudy. The water retains all its properties, even though because of the pollution it is unfit to drink. The “dirt” in our soul that obscures the image of God is our sins, our passions, and in general, our weakened human condition. “Raising up the image that fell of old” is like filtering the water, and removing that which is foreign to it.

Can God’s grace raise up His image in us, obscured by sin and passions, merely by forgiveness? Absolutely not. Forgiveness does not remove sinfulness; it does not strengthen the human condition. Christ “raised up the image” (of God) in us precisely by showing us how to live, and enabling us to live in this way. His ministry was one of knowledge and power. His way of life and teachings shows us the only way to live, and by His power, upon resurrecting His human soul, he gave us the ability. The raising up of the image is performed by each of us, with struggle, always with the grace of God helping us.

If we truly understand what the “Image of God” is then the need to labor to raise up this image will be plainly apparent.

The image of God reflects His nature – God is love, and He is pure, holy, full of knowledge, free. How can these things be understood if they are not lived?

Purity cannot be given to the impure as one might give some sort of material gift. To understand purity, one must become pure – not just be forgiven sins, but by labor and God’s grace obliterate impurity in the soul. To understand love, one must love: not as the world loves, but as God loves. To know God, we must become like God. Only then will the image of God that fell of old within us be raised. Because of the incarnation, teaching and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ, we have been given everything we need to “raise up the image that fell of old”. Let us then, “get up from our bed and walk!”

Once Mary, pregnant with a seedless pregnancy, / was registered in Bethlehem with the elder Joseph, / as being of the seed of David. / And while they were there, / the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, / but there was no room for them in the inn. / But the cave showed itself to be a beauteous palace for the Queen, / and Christ is born //to raise up the image that fell of old!
Troparion of the Forefeast, sung in the Royal Hours for Nativity.

1this is the so called “substitutionary atonement” taught by most Protestants ans Roman catholics, and alas, believed by some Orthodox who do not understand their own faith. This doctrine states that Jesus appeased His Father’s wrath by offering Himself as a perfect sacrifice. In essence, this doctrine states that God would NOT orgive us unless we killed His son!